More Washington lawmakers reach out with Facebook
More politicians in Washington state are turning to networking sites like Facebook to reach voters and colleagues instantaneously, through status updates, messages, comments and posting of links.
Seattle Times staff reporter
State legislators join Facebook
Breezing down the carpeted wing of the House of Representatives, state Rep. Eric Pettigrew, D-Seattle, was asked a popular question among legislators this session: "Hey, are we Facebook friends yet?"
The query came from fellow Democratic Rep. Dave Upthegrove, of Des Moines, who was skimming his friends list via iPhone when Pettigrew replied, "I don't think we are — yet."
Forget about backroom meetings or phone trees. For the tech-savvy in politics, it's all about Facebook.
Social-networking sites like Facebook and Twitter provide a platform for politicians to reach voters and colleagues instantaneously through status updates, messages and comments, among other things.
Barack Obama's successful use of social-media tools in his presidential campaign has spurred politicians to leap into the social-media fray.
"It is a fad in Congress, my God," said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. "Everybody feels like they have to have a Facebook page just to keep up with the Joneses in their districts and rivals in Congress."
In Washington state, politicians ranging from Seattle City Councilmember Tim Burgess to U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, have signed on.
"The 2008 election was a wake-up call," said McMorris Rodgers, who also uses the micro-blogging tool Twitter.
Facebook has become a popular place for state lawmakers to vent or update constituents as they struggle with solving the $8 billion budget shortfall.
"Chris thinks this legislative session is like drinking from a fire hose," state Rep. Chris Marr, D-Spokane, wrote on his Facebook page.
"Lisa believes we cannot responsibly deal with an 8 billion dollar deficit with an all-cuts budget," Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, wrote on her page.
Not as serious: "Dave is voting on the House floor while high on cold medicine. God help the state of WA," Upthegrove wrote.
Not everyone is embracing the technology.
"I'm too hip for Facebook," said state Sen. Joe McDermott, D-Seattle. He said meeting with people in real life leaves him no time for online networking.
And quite a few just don't know how. "I'm like a tech pile of rocks," said House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam.
The youngest member of the Legislature, Rep. Marko Liias, D-Mukilteo, 27, is the most popular man in state politics — at least online. He has more than 1,100 friends on Facebook and also Twitters.
"We represent 150,000 people," he said. "There is just no way to get face-to-face time with every person."
Still, Liias said he holds town-hall meetings and meets with constituents. "This is not a replacement — just another tool," he said.
He said some politicians have staff members run their sites and only post news releases. But that's less effective, he said.
"I try to make mine authentic, and fun," said Upthegrove, 37, who checks Facebook every night before bed. "It's an easy way to let people into your world."
Indeed, you can get a sneak peak into Upthegrove's life just by browsing his photos. His main photo shows him with President Obama. The caption reads: "Just hanging with Obama. Yeah, we're tight like that."
He's behind on reading his e-mail, he said, but recently found himself responding to a high-school student who asked him some questions via Facebook.
"Young people are comfortable with Facebook. They aren't going to pick up the phone and call the operator and tell them how they feel about an issue," he said.
In several weeks Gov. Chris Gregoire will launch her official Facebook page, where people can "friend" the governor, get invited to events, watch videos of her speeches or comment.
"It's only a matter of time — soon every politician will be on Facebook," McMorris Rodgers said.
Chantal Anderson: 360-236-8266 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
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